February 12th, 2014
The rise of the SFX artist has been meteoric, as famous as some of the talent they work on in film and TV circles. As our appetite for all things zombie, vampire, ghoul and werewolf seems insatiable, their skills have had to develop and evolve at a fast neck pace. With SFX and Prosthetics now a key element in most sci-fi productions, Warpaint talks to Mike Peel, founder of Rogue Creations SFX.
WP: Tell us a little about how you became an SFX artist?
MP: I think my love and fascination of horror and sci-fi films from an early age really stirred my desire to become an SFX artist. After watching horror and creature films over and over again, I then started to think about how the creature was able to do what it did or how a certain effect could be achieved. This started me learning about the team of FX technicians behind the scenes. The next step was to start making my own creations and effects and getting to know the techniques involved, early attempts at foam and silicone didn’t always go to plan, but when you’re first starting out trial and error is all part of the learning process.
WP: What influenced you to pursue a career in SFX?
MP: I’d say that my biggest influence to pursue a career in SFX was when I watched Labyrinth for the first time in ‘85. I left the cinema with such a buzz, totally in awe of how they created a fantasy world populated with physical effects, creatures, puppets and animatronics. This was the first time I seriously thought that this was something I wanted to do as a living and a few helpful correspondences with Jim Henson’s Creature Workshop helped guide me in the right direction.
WP: What was your first big break?
MP: I got my first break into the SFX industry in the late ‘90s working as a runner on Dungeons & Dragons for Bob (Hellraiser) Keen’s company Image Animation at Pinewood. I’d created some FX on a few short films and theatre productions though nothing on a big scale, so to work with one of the best FX companies in the UK was a huge opportunity. I was there for three months and was introduced to lots of different techniques and skills such as lifecasting, moulding, casting, artworking and prop making. That time really cemented my desire to pursue this as a full time job.
WP: How did Rogue Creations SFX come about?
MP: As with a lot of other FX artists, you’ll always work on your own projects when you’re not freelancing for other companies. After about five years, working for most of the top FX companies, I wanted to set up my own company. I was getting more jobs coming in direct from production companies which meant I could effectively work for myself with my own projects. The first film that helped set us up was a horror film called The Scarcrow, in total I think we had about 25 separate FX shots ranging from gouged eye prosthetics to severed body parts and a full torso being ripped apart from within. It was certainly full on and I love being involved in the whole process from conception, design, build and finally the execution of the effects on set.
WP: How many techs work with you? Are they freelancers? How do you put the teams together for each project?
MP: Usually the size of the project will determine how many technicians I’ll bring on board. I have a good selection of key freelance crew that I’ll use for certain projects. With most companies you’ll use people that you trust and have worked with before, though do try and get new faces in as much as possible, even as trainees to help assist.
WP: What was your most challenging creation and why?
MP: I’d say that the most challenging creation so far was a huge swollen head we created for a music video. The idea was that the character had been infected with mutant DNA and overnight his head swells to 3-4 times normal size. So the main issue with the prosthetic was not only the size, but the weight which we had to try to keep down as much as possible. The end piece was a silicone head prosthetic which was as light as we could possibly make it, but still it was heavy and weighed down on the actor’s head and shoulders. We had two days of filming with the head and it constantly needed touch ups, when there were any sudden movements form the actor, the piece automatically wanted to peel away from his face.
WP: What’s your favourite aspect of the job?
MP: My favourite aspect of the creation is always the sculpting process, I love working to designs and concepts and being able to realise a 2D creation into 3D. There is always a little scope in how the end piece ends up, as, during the sculpt stage, the forms and dimensions will sometimes change. I tend to go with what looks and feels more organic and I will admit that usually half way through this process I do just want to mould it, cast it and jump straight into the painting and artwork stage. Another aspect that I love is being able to interact and communicate with a wide variety of talented people to help create movie magic whether it be the DoP, ADs, costume, art dept, we’re all in it together to achieve the best work that we can.
WP: What was the best job to work on and why?
MP: I’d have to say one of the best projects that I’ve worked was The Descent. I was employed at Mattes & Miniatures based at Bray Studios and we ended up building a huge miniature cave that is featured in the opening of the film, it was a great crew and we had a lot of creative input into the construction of the cave. It was also my first screen credit that featured on a cinema released horror film.
WP: What film would you liked to have worked on and why?
MP: I’m a huge fan of The Thing and Rob Bottin’s work so if there was one film that I wished I could have worked on it would have been this. The practical effects still stand up today and are some of the best ever featured on screen. It was a benchmark in how real effects could be achieved, it certainly still inspires me and my work .I’d loved to have been involved in the build process and then figuring out how to achieve something that had never been seen or achieved before, which I guess is what we as FX artists do on a daily basis.
WP: Who do you admire most in the FX industry and why?
MP: There are so many talented people working in the FX industry and along with the big names such as Dick Smith, Stan Winston and Rick Baker I have the upmost respect and admiration for all the FX artist working in the industry who have pursued their dream of working in the industry and creating fantastic works of art.
WP: What products are essentials in your kit?
MP: I’d have to say that an essential part of my make-up kit would be the Skin Illustrator palettes. They are so universal and can be used on anything from foam, latex, gelatine and silicone and it’s good to see a new range endorsed and based on colours used by some top FX artists.
WP: We’ve had zombies, vampires and werewolves. What’s the next big challenge for the FX industry?
MP: I think that after the recent influx of zombies, werewolves and vampires we are about ready for huge mutated animals. I’d love to see a film where the English countryside turns nasty with demonic badgers and mutant bunny rabbits. I was approached a while back to create a zombie frog for a film so I think it’s about time we saw cute and cuddly turn vicious and deadly.
WP: What advice can you give to aspiring FX artists on breaking into the industry?
MP: Be persistent and dedicated. Try to experiment with as many different materials as possible whether it is latex, silicone or gelatine. Knowing the different techniques and skills is essential to forging a career in the industry, the more skills you have the more universal you will be as a freelancer. During my time I’ve worked as a mouldmaker, foam sprayer, props and model maker, sculptor, prosthetics technician and many more, so the more diverse you are the more opportunities you’ll encounter.
WP: What future projects can you tell us about?
MP: We have a busy few months coming up with a decapitation effect for a short, some alien masks, creating some gore FX for a Viking film and also a werewolf feature film in the summer.
Mike is our esteemed head judge for the SFX and Prosthetics category at the Warpaint Competition on Monday 24th February at Professional Beauty London. He is also demonstrating his incredible work at the Warpaint Conference, to book to see Mike click here.